When I was twenty-two, a friend and I rented an apartment across the street from Swarthmore College, in an ancient building I hated before we even signed the lease. We were poor, my friend and I, both starting out in publishing, not even making two thousand dollars a month, and the place was within walking distance of the SEPTA train to our jobs in Philly, so we took it. The apartment had once been grand, and the rooms were large. Then we were told the elderly resident before us had died in the kitchen. Bugs, as it turned out, had taken her place. The elevator was one of those gated contraptions from–I swear–before the time of the Model T and Prohibition, and was broken most of the time, and everyone on our floor, including me, swore the place was haunted.
Well, aren’t you just glad you decided to read this post? It gets better, honest.
One of the worst features our “historic” building–even worse than the creatures tap-dancing in our kitchen–was the decrepit laundry room in the basement of the building. It was dirty, and dark, and contained a couple of washer and dryers (not nearly enough for all of the residents) that, like the elevator, rarely worked. It was scary downstairs. My roommate and I would do our laundry together, but once she started spending most of her time with a new boyfriend, I began using the laundromat around the corner.
Bear with me, here. There’s a point to all this.
One lovely day, I was sitting on the curb outside the laundromat in Swarthmore, reading a book while waiting for my clothes to dry. It must’ve been a good read, because it wasn’t until it was almost touching my chest that I realized a car reversing out of a parking spot had backed up over me. Somehow I’d ended up sitting under it. I remember gasping, and putting a hand up, (like bracing against the rear bumper would be enough to stop the car from moving. Genius in times of crisis, am I). The car pulled away, leaving me shaking, the book forgotten, sitting there on the curb. The driver never even saw me. And I knew that if that car had backed up just another foot or two, I’d have ended up underneath it. If it had moved a foot or two to the right, I’d be sitting in a wheelchair right now. I also knew that I would now despise laundromats for the rest of my (mobile, not-sitting-on-curbs-reading) life.
You still with me?
I moved to another, smaller apartment a couple of towns over after that, and because my student loans had kicked in, and because even the part-time waitressing job I’d taken on evenings and weekends wasn’t covering my expenses, I was still hauling my clothes to a laundromat across the street. Somebody stole my bed sheets once from a dryer (I really do hate laundromats). It wasn’t until I moved to Baltimore that I first had a place with a real-life, honest-to-goodness washer and dryer inside my home. And then, the townhouse David and I rented when we moved up to Pennsylvania. And then, our little split-level-in-the-suburbs.
We were at the beach a couple of months ago, as you know. We spent a week there, with our children and my mother and brother, renting two floors of a big ol’ house right at the entrance to the beach. And yes, it had a washer and dryer. We watched the girls run up and down the long hallways. We spent our mornings reading (not on curbs) and digging in the sand. We sat on the deck at night in rocking chairs, with beers or glasses of wine in our hands, watching the moon rise over the Atlantic. At the end of the week, David and I came home with the kids and a mountain of laundry we’ve been chipping away at since. In our home. With our own washer and dryer.
We–you know, humans–always want what we don’t have, we know that. It takes a conscious effort sometimes to just relax into your own life and be. David found out last week that the plastic around my laptop screen is broken. He asked me why I didn’t tell him–if I needed a new computer, we’d work to get one. But I don’t need a new one, I told him. It’s fine. It’s doing the job right now. No reason to complain about something I don’t really need to fix.
My mom and I were sitting on the beach Saturday, and I remember asking her: when do the rich know that they are rich? Because David and I are still in the split-level we thought would be our starter home when we bought it…seven years ago. But we can spend Sunday afternoons swimming in our own pool. I’m not going to run out and buy a new laptop, because–hello, they’re expensive–but I just spent a week searching for shells with my children at the ocean’s edge. We need to redo our kitchen, but haven’t because–hello, SUPER expensive–but, BUT, I can sit on the comfort of my own couch folding the beach towels that are still warm from the dryer steps away from me in another room.
When is it ever enough? Have you ever wondered that, too? When do the rich realize they’re rich? Because I feel like I’m there. I don’t really have a need for more (well, maybe a fourth bedroom and new kitchen cabinets, but nevermind that). Is it okay that I’m content, that I’m happy where I am? The other stuff is nice, but once I have that, what will I want afterward? Because, let’s face it: I have a washer and a dryer.
We’re doing all right.